Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review - 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess


Jen Hatmaker

Category: nonfiction, memoir, downsizing/stuff, simplicity, sustainability, Christian, project

Synopsis: Hatmaker and her family set out to simplify seven areas of their lives by fasting from items, events, and stressors.

Date finished: 2 April 2013

Rating: ****

     Let me start off by saying that I was fully prepared to be annoyed by this book. Reviews I’d read indicated that the tone might be preachy, the writing annoying, and the author out-of-touch with how the rest of us live. I have to say that from the beginning I was surprised by how very much I was enjoying the book. Yes, her odd sense of humor and teeny-bopper way of expressing herself did grate on my nerves occasionally, but she was always able to rein herself in before things got out of control.
     I found the book introspective and genuine. Compared to some, her life might look privileged; her family might have a bigger house, newer things, more gadgets, but she readily admits to her family’s excess. In fact, that was the whole point. I think I was likely the demographic she was writing to.
     I’m not of the Christian tradition that fasts, but I can appreciate why some Christians do, and certainly it produced fruit in the author’s life. By fasting from food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress, the family lightened their load of earthly “stuff,” became more ecologically responsible, ate better, learned to rest, and became more focused on serving the have nots of the world. By fasting from the things of the world, she was opening herself up to the things of the Spirit. “It is supposed to be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Not because I’m a narcissist but because the discomfort creates space for the Holy Spirit to move.” (page 16)
     I agreed with most everything she said. For instance, “Think about the things you’d most hate to lose (outside of your family), and you’ll identify your idols.” (page 116) “Obedience isn’t a lack of fear. It’s just doing it scared.” (page 86) “Parenting my garden requires way more emotional energy than I expected.” (page 127) “If you think you want something, wait a month.” (page 169) “At some point, the church stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it…” (page 172) “…to be lifted we bow…” (page 174)
     At times I felt a distinct sense of regret and guilt that I do not do more to help the poor and afflicted. And as she states, “Sometimes conviction is mistaken for guilt…” (page 9)
     I appreciate that she shares her point of view without patronizing or condemning. I especially appreciate that she doesn’t bring politics into the discussion. She would have lost at least half her audience, and they would not have heard her beautiful message. Still, I wonder how much of this could be solved with conscience-voting. And I’m not talking about the guy who wants more money for food stamps, I’m talking about the guy who’ll use tax revenue for those who have no opportunity to be anything but poor (and by this I mean non-Americans). It says a lot about America and Americans that we spend $16 billion in foreign aid and $276 billion on (domestic) advertising. (page 93) The haves get more and the have nots get nowhere (except, it can be argued, for the ones put to work creating all the stuff for the haves to consume).
     As for domestic homelessness—one of her family’s pet causes—there are many of us who wonder if it’s time for less handouts and more hands up. What does it really do to feed the homeless every Sunday? Is that done for us or them? If they don’t receive help for addictions, occupational training, and life skills, what good does a hot meal and new shoes do? This may be why so few of us do things at home but sponsor starving children in other countries (and in some cases, adopt those children). I would have really appreciated a discussion on this topic. The fact that she didn’t address it means she’s either never thought about it or she sincerely believes the Bible doesn’t support this line of reasoning.
     I also would have appreciated a list of world charities that are honest and true, who do the most good with the least overhead. So many of us are poised to give more, but we don’t know where to give it. I happily noted the nod of approval for kiva loans (micro loans made to help entrepreneurs of other countries start businesses—the repayment rate is 98%), but I would have liked a list of resources for additional organizations.
     All in all, this book has the potential to change one’s heart—and one’s worldview—if you are open to the message. We all have too much stuff, and most of us can admit it. We all should eat better, and most of us are trying. We all should live just a little closer to the earth, but it takes so much work. We all know we should give more, do more, but we don’t know where to start. I think the author would say, “Start here, right where you are.” We’re so afraid that our efforts won’t be big enough to bring about enough change, so we do nothing at all. But we have to realize changing one life with our one life is the beginning of a chain reaction.
     I do have to mention that this book had an uncommonly large number of errors in it. I got tired of finding and circling them. By page 50, the author had misused “it’s” and “its” three times. This bothered me a great deal, because the author considers herself (page 170), “a word girl….I correct misspelled words when I text. When the PowerPoint has a grammatical error during worship, I have to close my eyes to avoid this language failure.” I’m a word girl too, and I was closing my eyes and praying not to judge A LOT with this one. Editing that bad is sort of unforgivable. The errors are why I gave 4 stars instead of 4.5 or 5 stars.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, especially Christians or others with a heart for it.

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